Lessons in Buying a House: Choosing a Real Estate Agent

houseThere hasn’t been much activity on this site for awhile, I mean on my part as far as writing anything new.  I’ve had a break from work, which rather than energize me, somewhat put me in a state of lethargy (deservedly so or not),  a slovenliness,  which, among other things, folded itself into a kind of writer’s block.

What’s been causing all this I already know: when I have a big decision to make, I also get stuck accomplishing other things.

Anyway, if you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you know that I’m in the process of buying a house, my first house.  It’s been an ongoing challenge for awhile now because I’ve been so methodical about it all, trying to be smart and make the best decisions.  I’ve already got my financing, with help from the VA and the expectancy of the $8,000 tax rebate to boot.

After I had secured my financing, I found a house that I really liked through har.com, and I wanted to check it out,but I didn’t have an agent, so I contacted one, based on a friend’s recommendation.  Even though I put in offers on two different houses with this agent, I never felt really comfortable working with her, and for a number of reasons, just didn’t trust her.  She didn’t help much with checking out the condition or value of the houses; instead, she advised me to offer the limit of my financing, and, in fact, told the seller’s agent what my limit was.  In the end, she seemed only to be pushing me to buy so that she could get her commission.

After that experience, I just have held off for awhile, knowing that I had to find another agent, but I felt like I had a block, just like writer’s block.  After hearing about my experience with this first agent, several friends and acquaintances told me about agents who they thought could help me, but I haven’t wanted to do that because now I have an uneasy situation with the friend who recommended the first agent, because he knows that I had problems with her but she is also his friend too.

So I did what I should have done in the first place.  As part of my whole process of buying a house, almost a year ago, I took a couple of Leisure Learning classes about financing and buying a house.  All of the instructors were good, but I felt one guy was really knowledgeable and down-to-earth.

Just a few days ago, I broke out of my lethargy and called him, and he was just as informative and helpful on the phone as he had been in the class.

Yesterday we met to look at a place.  It isn’t going to be “my first place”, but I realized that I had made the right decision in contacting him.  He’s much more of a “people person” than the first agent, and I feel that he understands someone like me, who’s buying for the first time.  Even when we got to the property, he didn’t rush me into looking at the house, but chatted first about other interests that we both had.  We looked at the place together, discussing the pluses and minuses.  And there was no push to buy or not buy.  Then we agreed to look at some other places that I’m interested in sometime next week.

So how do you find a good realtor?  I still don’t have an easy answer.  Here’s a site that gives some good questions that a buyer should ask a prospective agent.  I have read through them and even printed them out to put with all my “house buying stuff”, but I’m not sure whether most new buyers would just pop into a real estate agency and start interviewing an agent.

One thing I’ve learned is that some agents may have you sign an exclusivity agreement, which is a sort of contract.  However, in that case, you can put a time limit, so if I were unsure about how well I liked this agent, I wouldn’t make the agreement for more than like three weeks or a month.  If you don’t get a house in that time, but you decide you like the agent, you can always extend the agreement, or if you don’t like the agent, you can find another.

I think buyers, especially first-timers, are really at a disadvantage in the home-buying process.  After all, both agents get a larger commission the more the house sells for.  The seller too has already been through the same process at least once, when he bought the house, and he wants to get as much money as he can.

So I think the best buyer’s agent has to be someone that you can feel some connection with, some rapport.  Probably, a guy will have better luck with a male agent, and any other similarities, like age, and like in my case, sexuality.  (Yeah, I thought he might be gay when I took the Leisure Learning class, but I think I have probably the worst gaydar in the world.)  The more the buyer and the agent have in common, the more likelihood that they will look at a property in a similar way.

I’m still not to the end of making a determination about real estate agents.  In fact, I haven’t veered far yet from my initial impression that they are not much less greasy than car salemen.  Likewise, though you know they have to drive around a lot in their line of work, you also get another question mark sprouting out of the top of your head when they drive up in big black European cars.

Finally Someone Has the Cojones To Stand Up to the Crazies at Town Hall Health Care Meetings

This topic hasn’t been one I’ve written much about before, but when I see them on TV, I just wonder what country I am living in. How did so many get so crazy and so uninformed that they will say anything, especially the completely disrespectful slogans and images about the President.

Even though many Americans disagreed with Bush’s policies and, in particular, going to war in Iraq and its continuance thereafter, GWB was never treated in such a disrespectful way. I’ve heard conservative pundits and blog writers say the liberals did that to Bush, but I’ve been paying close attention to politics for quite awhile, and if someone can give evidence that Bush was treated in such a way, I’d like to see it.

These people have been angry and now egged on by conservative lobbyist groups, as well as Republicans in Congress, have become more emboldened, even carrying guns to these meetings and protests.

They keep crying out all of the nasty Nazi stuff, but what I see is that they are acting more like some in Germany did pre-World War II, spewing out hatred and vile slogans.

What gets me is how did so many people in this country get to be so dumb and uninformed? If they would just read a bit, they would know that the claims they are making about what the health care bill would do (i.e. promoting euthanasia) are completely beyond the pale.

And when they do go to these town hall meetings, they don’t seem to want really ask questions to find out what the program would do, they just want to be vile and nasty. Some Republicans and other conservatives are praising this, saying that these people are exercising their right to free speech.

It looks to me, though, that these people have been taking lessons from Fred Phelps and his family in being mean and nasty.

I think there are very few people in this country who can look at all this nastiness, and say, “Oh, they make me proud to be an American.”

Proud, no–embarrassed for my country is more like it.

Finally, though, Rep. Barney Frank from Massachusetts did and said what others should have been doing all along, and many of us have wondered why it hasn’t been done before.

All I can say is, “You tell ’em, Barney!’

Watch it:

It’s 2:15 AM, But You Should Read This Book

Boswell book(Yes, it’s 2:15 AM, and luckily, tomorrow starts my vacation, and I will only have to wake up to take Annie out to do her business, and then I can crash again if I want. But someone posted a comment to one of my old posts, and responding to took enough time and effort that I decided to add a bit and use it as its own post.)

Beliefs. When it comes to beliefs, we have to make some distinctions.

If I put a pan of water on the stove, add some salt, turn on the burner, and wait until the water starts to boil at 212 degrees fahrenheit, I believe that if I dump the linguini into the water, it will be cooked a little more than al dente in about 8 minutes. On the other hand, maybe I’m cutting the grass, and I spy a four-leaf clover at the edge of the sidewalk, and say to myself, “Hey, I believe I’m in for a bit of good luck. Then, if some positive happens, I can attribute it to finding the four-leaf clover; however, if nothing significant takes place, I can just forget about it, and say, “Oh, well,” and wait until another “sign” like another four-leaf clover comes along.

That’s my take on beliefs, and if I haven’t drawn a clear enough picture for you, you’re not ready for Philosophy 101.

So that’s what applies in my comment below. (If my transition is weak, now it’s 2:30 AM.)

I always get tickled when religious people want to come back and say to me, “You’re angry.” Obviously, you haven’t read much else here on the blog.

You say you’ve made sacrifices. Most people in their lives have made sacrifices, but there is a difference between rights as a citizen of this country and whatever personal sacrifices people make to have the life they want. Just because some people have certain personal religious beliefs should not mean that others in this country should be prevented from having the same rights as everyone else. You as a married person have a whole slew of rights granted to you by the government besides the most obvious–marriage itself, but also the many spousal benefits that go along with it, not to mention being able to be open about who you are in the military, or even more simply to give blood.

When you start to add god into the picture, I say, “Whose god?” There are many denominations that have no problem accepting gay marriage and full equality across the board. We don’t have a theocratic government system in the U.S. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran have governmental laws based on Islam, and whatever side of the political fence you sit on in this country, I have heard few people advocating they would like a government like that in this country.

You say: “I don’t think gay people are less than others, I never said that, so I don’t know where you got that. I think that gay people choose to believe that God is okay with their choice and I believe that they are mistaken.”

I “get that” because you chose to comment to my post and indicate that you are against gay marriage. What is inherent in what you say is that you think your beliefs are the correct beliefs and based on those beliefs, gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married in this country. You say “they are mistaken” and that indicates that they cannot have what you have–marriage–which indicates you do think gay people are less.

This is really no different than in theocratic countries where women are treated as “less”. Based on those laws, the wife has to walk behind the husband, cover her head and most of her body, and in some countries not be able to drive a car. Oh, but sure, he doesn’t think she’s “less” than he is, does he?

One thing that always gets me and every other gay person I know is that when people tell them being gay is a choice. I just don’t buy that you have any gay people whom you are really close to; otherwise, you just would not say or even think that.

Did you make a choice NOT to be gay? Chew on that a moment, and you have to realize that gay people don’t make a choice NOT to be straight. Are you left-handed or right-handed? Did you make a choice about that? Back in the good ol’ days, especially in parochial schools, left-handed kids got their hands whacked with a ruler or even had their left hands tied behind their backs to force them to use their right hands because being left-handed was thought to be wrong by some people. I guess in your way of thinking being left-handed wasn’t in god’s plan.

There’s no fork in the road of life where people choose to be left-handed or right-handed. Likewise, there’s no fork in the road where people choose to be gay, straight, or even something in the middle. Like being left-handed or right-handed, it just how we are wired.

The problem is that some religions and some people want to attach some kind of moral significance to that wiring.

Where there is a choice, however, is in what people choose to believe. As part of their beliefs, the Aztecs sacrificed other human beings; the people of Salem believed that some of the local women were witches and burned them to death; some people from Latin countries believe that if a pregnant woman looks at a full moon, the baby will have a mark on its face; some Hindus believe that cows are sacred; and the Pope of the medieval church believed that the earth was flat, and, thus, Galileo was a heretic and driven out of the church.

Through the ages, beliefs have changed. People learn, people grow, people use logic and knowledge. (Others, however, keep on with the same ol’ superstitions and fairy tales.)

But just what is it with christians and homosexuality anyway? The bible really doesn’t say that much about it, and the lines there are come from way back in the part where there are all sorts of weird old Jewish rules, like not letting dwarfs or invalids anywhere near the altar and not touching the skin of a pig. There’s a bunch of stuff like that back in Leviticus, but nobody, even those people who say they take every word of the bible literally adhere to any of that, but somehow they pull out homosexuality as being just about the worst thing anybody could be.

Never mind that it’s not on the top ten list of biblical no-no’s. I mean shouldn’t adultery be written into U.S. law? I’m pretty sure it’s there on that big ol’ tablet that Moses came down the mountain with. But I didn’t see any christians advocating for any laws against adultery when Governor Sanford was/is having his fling with his Argentine “soul mate” or after Senator Vitter got caught cheating on his wife with prostitutes. Why aren’t all the christians up in arms about that? (Remember that ol’ song “Things That Make You Go Hmmm”?)

Why did the Aztecs believe they should sacrifice other humans? Why did the people of Salem believe some of the local women were witches and burn them to death? Why did people believe the world was flat?

(But based on your thinking, not those sacrificed by the Aztecs, the women put to death in Salem, nor even Galileo were “less”, because, of course, the Aztecs, the people of Salem, and the medieval church were all just following the laws based on their beliefs.)

And I think this should be a question for you. WHY do you believe what you believe. (I heard that ol’ Sunday School song “Cuz the Bible Tells Me So” many times, but that just doesn’t cook the linguini any more than the four-leaf clover cooks it.)

In the end, you can believe whatever you believe. If you want to believe a rock is a hairbrush, you can believe that, especially if some church elder has convinced you that a rock is a hairbrush. And would you dare question that with a “Why?”.

In the same way that some parents’ religious beliefs should not prevent their child with cancer from being treated, your own and others’ religious beliefs should not prevent gay people from marrying the person whom they love.

Finally, you need to read this book: “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality” by John Boswell.

Grandma’s House and A One-of-a-Kind Photo Collection

Calendar Plate--The Citizens State Bank, Dorrance, Kansas from 1911--I probably admired this plate so many times that my grandma finally gave it to me. It's one of my treasures.

Calendar Plate--The Citizens State Bank, Dorrance, Kansas from 1911--I probably admired this plate so many times that my grandma finally gave it to me. It's one of my treasures.

For a kid, my grandma’s house wasn’t the most fun place to visit, especially if you went there almost every day. It was pleasant enough on summertime evenings, when the grown-ups sat on the front porch and we kids sat on the “stoop” or ran down into the ravine (which wasn’t really a ravine, but a low place where the water ran when it rained) to catch lightning bugs.

But other times, when you had to be inside, there wasn’t much to do. Grandma was quiet and serious, and kids were expected to behave. There were no toys to play with at Grandma’s. Thinking back on it, I wonder why the folks never left a few of our toys there for us to have something to do when we went there, but they didn’t.

I say there were no toys to play with at Grandma’s, but there was –“the wheel”. The wheel was a miniature tire, about 6 inches in diameter, and had probably been a promotional give-away from one of the local filling stations, most likely originally with a glass ashtray in the middle. So when a very small child came to Grandma’s, she dug out “the wheel” for them to play with. And even when you got older, the wheel still had some fascination when it was gotten out for a younger relative.

But when you got older, there were other things at Grandma’s house to get your interest, if you had sense enough to keep your adolescent mind focused.

Grandma’s house had a parlor, and the parlor, indeed, was treated as that, a special room. In fact, it was on the other side of the house from the front room (living room) with a bedroom in between. It was not often that Grandma would “open up” the parlor. Opening up the parlor meant pulling back heavy, velvet, dark burgundy drapes that closed off the bedroom from the parlor. In the spring and summer, in order to help the air circulate, it also meant opening the parlor door, which was a second entrance to the house.

There were some odd pieces of furniture in the parlor: a library table with photos of grandkids on it, and a leather and wooden sofa, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever sat on. The biggest attraction in the parlor was the secretary, one of those old-timey pieces with a tall cabinet with a glass door on one side and a pull-down writing desk on the other side. Inside the cabinet, there were various knick-knacks and pieces of glassware, but the real gold mine was the two velvet-covered picture albums that held family photos, some so old they were tin-types.

I remember sitting with my mom looking at them. Grandma never had the desire to sit and look through a whole book, but she’d help to identify unknown faces. After Grandma’s death, some of the relatives got the albums and I have never seen them again. Fortunately, I do have a lot of old family photos given to me by my mom or other relatives.

Maybe I’ve got “the cart before the horse” in my memory lane narrative, but a discovery I made last night has got me thinking about those old photos.

I’ve mentioned my hometown–Dorrance, Kansas before. You can take the kid out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the kid. Well, that’s me, not a kid, except at heart, by any long shot these days, and I’ve lived in one of the biggest cities in the U.S. now for almost half my life. But Dorrance will always be a part of me, even as I get older and Dorrance’s population dwindles even smaller and smaller.

Dorrance is very lucky, though, and, unlike many small towns, has a way of keeping its history, thanks in part to a young budding photographer, who lived there a hundred years ago. His name was Leslie Halbe, and for a period of about four years–1908 to 1912, he took pictures of the people in and around Dorrance, both in portraits and in daily activities. This was done with one of those old cameras that used glass negatives. Although Leslie moved away from Dorrance in 1912, by luck and maybe some foresight, most of these negatives finally ended up in the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka. There have been different exhibitions of Halbe’s work through the years.

The Citizens State Bank, Dorrance, Kansas, May 26, 1909, by Leslie Halbe.  This building is still standing on Main Street in Dorrance.  It was the office of the Dorrance Telephone Company when I was a little kid and more recently was a barber shop.  Notice how the negatives of the old photos had two images.

The Citizens State Bank, Dorrance, Kansas, May 26, 1909, by Leslie Halbe. This building is still standing on Main Street in Dorrance. It was the office of the Dorrance Telephone Company when I was a little kid and more recently was a barber shop. Notice how the negatives of the old photos had two images. This is the bank my plate came from.

Sometime back, I discovered that part of Halbe’s photos were available on Kansas Memory (click in the sidebar or below). Then last night, I found that they now have all of the 1500+ photos online. I still haven’t looked at them all. But I will.

I know that some of Leslie Halbe’s photos had to have been in those album’s kept in Grandma’s secretary. I remember also that one of the “Halbe boys” had been one of my mother’s elementary school teachers. One of the articles said Leslie Halbe’s parents ran a candy shop. If what I remember is correct, it was the drug store, which in the early days might have been called a confectionary. The drug store closed in Dorrance when I was in grade school, but not only did they sell over the counter drugs and bits of what a Walgreen’s might have today, they had a soda fountain, where you could buy ice cream, soft drinks, and sandwiches.

Halbe’s photos leave a record of the people and life of not only my hometown, but really of small town America on the Great Plains during the early 1900s.

  • If you’re interested in learning more about Leslie W. (Winfield) Halbe and his photos, read here and here.
  • If you want to access the Halbe Collection photos and Kansas Memory, go here.

These are some of my favorite photos from the collection, so far:

Dorrance, looking at Main Street and southwest, circa 1910

Dorrance, looking at Main Street and southwest, circa 1910

Dorrance Telephone Operators and Office, Nov. 6, 1909.  This photo is probably one of the most popular from the Halbe Collection.

Dorrance Telephone Operators and Office, Nov. 6, 1909. This photo is probably one of the most popular from the Halbe Collection.

Belle Bickell and Miss Browne, June 3, 1911

Belle Bickell and Miss Browne, June 3, 1911

Harvest Crew, July 7, 1912

Harvest Crew, July 7, 1912

Another Lesson: Getting the Most for Your Money at the All-You-Can Eat Buffet, Or How To Hide a Gun

9-millimeter Handgun (I had no idea either.)

9-millimeter Handgun (I had no idea either.)

This is not my usual type of post, but I couldn’t resist passing this along. It’s one of those stories that makes you think, “Now has that ever happened before?”

Here in Houston, when someone is arrested they are usually taken to the Houston Municipal Jail, and then if they are not let loose or immediately bailed out, they will be transferred to the Harris County Jail in order to wait for a court appearance or other procedings.

According to a Houston Chronicle article, it seems that one guy who was arrested for bootlegging illegal CD recordings was able to keep a gun on him even though he was searched several times both after his arrest and before entering the city jail and then when he was transferred to the county jail.

George Vera is 5’10” and weighs more than 500 pounds so he was able to hide the 9-millimeter handgun in the folds of his skin during the various searches. It wasn’t until he was taken for a shower that he revealed to a guard that he was hiding a gun.

He is now out on $10,000 bail for both the original bootlegging charge and also for possessing a gun inside a correctional institute.

OK, now go munch on that for awhile.

New Gallup Poll Just Out Shows a Preference for Blue Over Red When It Comes to Political Party Choices

GallupAn interesting surprise from tonight’s Rachel Maddow Show is a new poll out from Gallup, which is based on people from each state and their political party identification. I’m not going to paraphrase or quote, because if you’re really interested in the relatively short article explaining the poll and its results, just click over to it here at the Gallup site.

There are some results which do surprise me though:

  • The results from this poll are very similar to those of last year.
  • Texas, where I’ve lived for so long, and Kansas, my home state, both of which are traditionally conservative and vote Republican, now show a competitive balance in party association.
  • Oklahoma, which had no (yes, that’s zero) county give a majority of its votes to President Obama in the 2008 election is shown as leaning Democrat.
  • Only five states are shown as strong Republican or leaning Republican.

One thing to note is that according to the article, the survey was taken of adults 18 or older, not necessarily voters.

If you like politics and demographics, take a look and check out where your state and the country stands politically, at least, based on this survey.